Friday, 12 July 2013

Paris, It Leaves A lasting Impression-ist

Craig Writes;
07/07/13. We landed at Charles De Gaulle  Airport at 7.15am local time and 1.15 am US time. We just lost 6 hours of our life. We stayed awake for the nearly seven hour Atlantic crossing. The thought was that we would take a nap once we're settled, around 10am, and then get up around 1-2pm, go out , shop etc and try and have a normal day till we collapse from lack of sleep around 9pm. Hopefully we all wake up tomorrow and are back in the swing.
We went for a walk down to the Tourist Bureau to sort out transit passes etc. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon to be walking in the shady quiet streets of Paris. Our apartment is in a building that is right on the main restaurant, cafe and boulangerie strip but set back and behind two big security doors. Once the doors clang shut and you charge up the four flights to your apartment you can't hear a thing. The streetscape caught Claude Monets eye and he did a series of paintings on Rue Montorgueil in the 1870's. 

Monet loved our street so much he painted it in 1878
The view from our kitchen window into our courtyard
8/07/13 Aaarrghh, jet lag, the bane of every traveller. Forget global warming, it's too late anyway, the whales are big enough to look after themselves and if we cured the common cold people would find quickly find another excuse for taking the Monday after the long weekend off. No, we need a cure for jet lag. And wash your mouth out if you say, "well just don't travel", you heathen. I staggered to bed at 9pm last night falling face first onto my pillow and slept like the dead till I woke up at 3am as if someone had come screaming through the bedroom banging pots. I was now wide awake and there was no going back to sleep, so I got up. I read, I wrote, I did my yoga, I did some exercise, I read more etc etc till the rest of the house was up and awake...six hours later.
We eventually got going about 11.30 with the aid of the first really descent cup of coffee I've had in three months. Sorry USA, but bigger is not always best. No sight seeing of lovely Gothic cathedrals or Neo Classical Museums today. Today was a "work day" and we were off to find the EUrail office and stand in line for two hours listening to a group of 20 year old aussie travellers trying too hard to impress everyone around them with their aussie accents and the "famous" aussie larrikin charm. It was painful. Eventually we found ourselves at the front of the line. Why have ten assistance windows and only 2 to 3 open when there is a perpetual line of a 100 people was a frequently asked question among the crowd.  Having said that, the girl who helped us spoke good english and was very helpful. We left all stamped, validated and with a good idea of where we were heading. We then hopped back on the train and decided to go to Luxembourg Gardens to sit and eat our home made baguettes. Then, a nice casual walk back down the Blvd St Michel, past Notre Dame and eventually home.

Luxembourg Gardens, beautiful, but dont dare try sit on the lawn
9/07/13 Nothing.Damn you cursed jet lag.

10/07/13 Our broken body clocks are still out being repaired but we were determined today to march on without them. This is Paris after all and our time is limited. Even then we found our original plan to catch the 11am free tour around Notre Dame pushed back to 2.30pm. Still, we were out of the apartment by 1.45 all half fired up and ready to go. We are only a very pleasant 20 minute walk to the Cathedral and what better way to adjust yourself than by walking through the busy streets of Paris on a beautiful sunny day.
The last time we saw Notre Dame it was covered in scaffolding going through one of it's many renovations. This year it is celebrating it's 850th anniversary and it looks magnificent. When we first arrived there was a cue of eager tourists stretching about 200 metres around a bend. But, to our delight, our English tour guide, the aristocratically spoken Elizabeth, took us straight through a side entrance. She was an absolute delight. I'm guessing around late teens to early twenties. Hard to tell with the English sometimes with their perfect pale complexions and rose bud smiles.

Happy 850th
The much under appreciated rear end of Notre Dame
Notre Dame is a stunning medieval gothic church with it's huge flying buttresses and the famous gargoyles peering down from above. It is an imposing building dressed in it's ancient grey stone but how magnificent would it have looked in it's day when it was all brightly painted. Even the gargoyles, that today are daunting if not fearsome, would have appeared like cute monkeys looking fondly down on the masses.
It claims to have in it's vaults vast and important treasures and relics, amongst them, The Crown of Thorns, a sliver of The Cross and a Holy Nail. When you read a bit about how they have come to the conclusion that these are in fact the real deal you do have to wonder, just a little bit. There are about 30 venerated Holy Nails in various reliquaries around the world. I'm not a religious guy but I'm pretty sure they didnt drive 30 nails into the poor fella. So there are obviously a few dud Holy Nails out there. Who's got the real ones, if anyone, god only knows.
The massive stained glass windows on the north and south walls are so beautiful. Though they have both been renovated and repaired over the centuries, the north wall window is still 75% original while the south wall window, which was severely damaged by fire in the 17th century, is only 25% original.
It's hard to capture how beautiful they are on a camera
Just behind the Cathedral is a little know memorial to the French citizens, mostly Jewish, who were rounded up during WWII by the gendarmes under the orders of the occupying Nazis and deported to various concentration camps. The Memorial Des Martyrs de la Deportation commemorates the 200,000 who were taken and never returned. Before you enter you are instructed  by a sombre gentleman to please observe silence. As you walk down a steep set of stairs you descend into an open air grey stoned crypt. Uncomfortable large gaps between the large square stones mean you have to watch your step. A small barred window gives an inviting but unattainable glimpse of the Seine rushing by. This is guarded by an imposing black sculpture of large scythe like blades. Behind you are two dark narrow slits. These are the doorways into the memorial. It is dark, claustrophobic and haunting. This is not meant to be a comfortable experience, the idea is to move you physically and emotionally. There is a large medallion with an inscription around it and roped off with thick red cord. Behind that and staring straight at you, is a long tunnel with a gleaming light at the end of it. On each side of the tunnel, mounted on panels along the walls, are 200,000 shining crystals. Each representing one of the souls of the men, women and children who were snatched from their homes, their familiar streets, their shops and schools,bundled into trucks and trains and herded like cattle to their demise.

This was very moving
11/07/13 Another very slow start to the day .  We had all sorts of  plans but ended settling into the apartment and then heading out for a walk down to Musee D' Orsay around 2pm.

Everyones favourite, Musee D'Orsay
The renovations that were underway when we were last here and prevented us from eating in the 5th floor clock restaurant were now complete.

Christina and Callum, very happy with their order, Charlie and I think we should have gone bigger
The fifth floor was now opened with a very impressive new gallery full of all our favourite Impressionists, Monet, Pissarro, Manet, Degas, Lautrec, Renoir, Sisley and others.   We decided to eat early before the crowds got in. The food was delicious but the servings were small and for what we paid we could have feed ourselves in the US for a week. But hey, you don't do it every day.

From Musee D'Orsay  looking over the Seine to Sacre - Coeur
We cruised the halls of the galleries, liking some but not most of the post impressionist. You get very picking when your on your fourth or fifth National Gallery and probably seen a billion dollars worth of art.The Impressionist's have always been our favourites. I like the bold flowing brush strokes and the bright colourful outdoor scenes that they were known for. Anywho, we headed back walking down beside the Seine enjoying the early evening rush, even at 8pm the streets are packed with people going every which way. The roads, the sidewalks, the cafes and restaurants are all busy.

Those old romantic French fools, locking up their love and throwing away the key,                  tres agreable

An observation here, the cafes are full of people chatting, drinking, smoking, eating and people watching. No one and I mean no one, sits with their face glued to a device, tap tap tapping away. Even people who are sitting by themselves dont do it. It is so refreshing to see people interacting, socialising or just sitting and enjoying their surroundings without feeling the need to be connected. This is the first first world country I have seen that in. Now, if only the French would get the message that smoking is not tres chic.

12/07/13 I'm not going to say another word about jet lag, except that it SSUUCCKKSS!!. Bed at 11pm up at 2am, asleep again at 5.30am, awake at 8.30am.  What the!!
We had plans to go to the Eiffel Tower but that was so "last trip". So we decided to catch a train to the Arc de Triomphe instead, have a look around up there and then walk down the Champs-Elyse'es to the Louvre.

Two likely lads in Paris
Deja Vu for us, same spot for us back in 1997
Looking south down the Champs - Elysees
Charlie in the stairwell of the Arc De Triomphe, fantastic shot  by Christina
They're setting up road blocks everywhere for the big Bastille Day parade this Sunday. Unfortunately we're on a train to Amsterdam on Saturday so we're going to miss the fun. And, the following Sunday the Tour de France guys will be belting up the Champs-Elyse'es  to the finishing line. Last time we were here in 2011 we left for Disney Land just two hours before Cadel Evans came rushing up to claim the winners jersey for Australia

The Louvre is massive and deserves, like just about everywhere we've been, more time than we had to give it. We had a look at the early Renaissance painters and some of the Bottecelli sculptures and then it was pretty much straight to the Mona Lisa.

About to enter.. The Louvre
Watch and see how their eyes follow you around the room.
"What's all the fuss about", says Charlie. As far as initial impact goes, the painting at the other end of the gallery is quite breath taking just in it's enormity alone. It is quite literally, a third the size of an indoor soccer pitch. Sure it doesn't have the mystique and profile of the Mona Lisa, but wow, it's big. Still, the crowds were in front of the Mona Lisa and it was here we had to squeeze, shuffle and push our way forward to eventually get close enough to get a picture without the mop of a fellow tourists head in our shot.

Head and shoulders, the most popular painting here
It would be nice to be able to linger and look a while but once you get anywhere near the front the claustrophobic pressure from those around you is a bit overwhelming and you want out. Napoleon the III apartments were next on our list and they did not disappoint. The nephew and heir of Napoleon Bonaparte I,  these were every bit as opulent, if not more so than Versailles. As with the Louvre itself, most of the amazing works are on the painting ceilings. But, here, on these apartments, there is not a single surface that is not gilded, lacquered of painted. The artworks, the furniture, the fittings are everything you would expect of a French Emperor at the height of his game with endless resources of wealth and artisans at his disposal.
Have you..
ever seen..
such pure opulence..
and indulgence.
As the sun started to set on our last night in Paris we made the trip home at a slow meander. We had put about 6 - 7 klms of walking under our belt today and we were all looking forward to putting our feet up before packing in anticipation of an early start tomorrow morning.  We had a 10.30 am train to Amsterdam to catch. This is our third trip to Paris and it is truly magnificent. I am slowly defining those places that I could live for an extended period. The places that I would really like to get to know. San Francisco, New York and Paris, three to six months in each would be very nice.

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